Advent Attitudes: Expectation

Advent 2

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

(Please read Luke 2:21-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

          The Reader’s Digest published an article last year explaining why September Is the Most Popular Birth Month in America, and These Are 3 Fascinating Explanations.  It was written by Brandon Specktor.

“According to real birth data compiled from 20 years of American births, mid-September is the most birthday-packed time of the year, with September 9th being the most popular day to be born in America, followed closely by September 19th.  The week and a half between September 9th and September 20th contains nine of the top ten birthdays in America, with the top three being 9/9, 9/19, and 9/12.

“The least common days to be born are, incidentally, all holidays: 12/25 rounds out the bottom, right after 1/1, 12/24, and 7/4. Strangely, in the 20 years analyzed above, there were even fewer births on each of these holidays than there were on February 29th, which only only appeared on calendars six times between ’94 and ’14.

“Why is September such a popular time to come into the world?

  1. Winter is for lovers.Turn the great clock back 40 weeks from September 19 and you’ll find yourself in the December holiday season. This makes sense: Many American students and laborers take time off around Christmas. [I suspect mistletoe is a factor here, too!]
  2. Our bodies crave winter cuddles.
  3. Every day is a popular birthday.The actual differences in birth numbers between common and less common birthdays are often within just a few thousand babies. For example, September 19th, has an average birth rate of 12,229 babies. Meanwhile, Christmas day has a birth rate of just 6,574 babies.”

https://www.rd.com/culture/september-popular-birth-month/

What have we learned?  Christmas is great time for beginning new things.  God the Father began a new thing with the birth of Jesus, who is God the Son.  Advent is a good time to conceive of a new, more godly way to live.  Forget about Santa’s “nice list,” it’s a great time of year to get on the “nice lists” of family, friends, and neighbors.

Our second Advent Attitude is that of expectation.  From the children building with excitement about presents to the maturing believers having a sense of anticipation growing of worship and family traditions,  This season is all about our expectations of what’s coming and our preparations to enjoy it.

  1. Simeon’s expectations were met by Jesus (25-35).

He’d been expecting the CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  What’s not obvious in English translations is the “Consolation” is a person, not a thing.  It was a title used to refer to the Messiah, the person God would choose to free His people.  (See Isaiah 25:9; 40:1-2; 66:1-11.)

In having this expectation Simeon was not unusual.  We read an example of this speculation at work in Luke 3:15: THE PEOPLE WERE WAITING EXPECTANTLY AND WERE WONDERING IN THEIR HEARTS IF JOHN MIGHT POSSIBLY BE THE CHRIST.  Of course, John the Baptist was

not the Christ, he was the herald, announcing the coming of the Messiah.  He positively identified Jesus as the Christ.  This verse indicates that there was a popular belief that the Messiah was coming.  Lots of people were, like Simeon and Anna, expectantly looking for Him.

Simeon was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke notes three qualifications:

He was RIGHTEOUS.  He was a good citizen and a good man.

He was DEVOUT.  This term refers to someone who fears God and is careful to keep God’s law (see Deuteronomy 2:4 and Isaiah 57:11).

The HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM.  His appearance at the temple at just the right moment and his recognition of a little peasant baby both came about by the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Before we note the particulars of what Simeon said about Jesus, let’s note what a leap of faith this must have been for Simeon.  His eyes saw a baby.  The Spirit said the baby was the Redeemer.  He followed the Spirit into the temple and into the revelation of the child’s true identity.  Simeon made four public comments and four private ones to Mary.  Publically, he said:

“You have kept your promise.”  This was something Simeon took very personally.

“Now I can die happy.”  I think this comment either sounds like an older man or someone who is making an exaggerated statement because he’s so happy.

“I have seen YOUR SALVATION.”  Popular expectation sought a political/military savior, but God planned for salvation from sin.

“PREPARED IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.”  (See Revelation 7:9.)

“A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES.”  Popular expectations for the Messiah probably didn’t concern themselves with the Gentiles, so this is another extraordinary mark; a sign of the Spirit’s leading.

“GLORY FOR YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL.” God will keep His promises to His people Israel.

Simeon’s private predictions to Mary were not good news.  He said Jesus was

“DESTINED TO CAUSE THE FALLING AND RISING OF MANY IN ISRAEL.”  In his first letter Peter picked up on this and referred to Jesus as a STONE that caused men to STUMBLE and FALL (1 Peter 2:8).

“A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST” predicted not only the verbal abuse Jesus suffered but includes the rejection of His teaching and His crucifixion as well.

All this because He would reveal THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS.” It is human nature and sin nature to resent exposure of one’s faults and sins.  But it was not so much that Jesus knew their hearts and exposed them as much as by their own choice to reject Him that they revealed the sad, sinful condition of their own hearts.

“A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO.”  This warning must’ve been something she pondered, just as she had the shepherds’ words, but she probably did not “treasure” it as she did in verse nineteen.  The word SWORD refers to a large and brutal weapon.  The word carried a more emotional impact.  The warning came to pass in Jesus’ arrest and death by crucifixion.

  1. Anna’s expectations were met by Jesus (36-39).

Anna had expected THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  This was a pious way of referring to every Jew’s hope that their nation might be set free (redeemed) from servitude to Rome.  The city of Jerusalem and the temple within the city were the focal points of the entire nation and were used to refer to the entire nation.

Anna was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke noted three qualifiers.

She was a PROPHETESS.  This title does not necessarily mean that Anna was given revelations of the future.  It more likely meant that she was a teacher, probably of women, there in the Court of Women.

She was a resident of the temple courts, spending her days FASTING & PRAYING.  It would have been unusual for anyone but a priest to have quarters on the temple grounds, so this indicates Anna held unique status as a PROPHETESS.

She was VERY OLD.  Luke’s language is a little ambiguous, but it’s most likely she was 84 years old when she encountered baby Jesus.  In a time when the average life expectancy was mid-40s, 84 is a very ripe old age indeed.

Anna became a witness.  We see her exercising her witness in two ways.  SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD, just as the shepherds had done earlier in this chapter.

SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD to everyone who looked forward to God saving His people and especially Jerusalem.  Anna may’ve been part of a group known as “Quiet in the Land,” people who were looking forward to the coming of God’s Messiah.

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

          In Luke’s account, Simeon and Anna appear AFTER Jesus’ birth.  Even so, they are two great biblical examples of people who have the attitude of expectation.  For YEARS they kept up their expectations of the coming of the Messiah, just as God had promised.  Can you imagine their great joy and deep satisfaction when God revealed the Messiah to them?  Maybe their first reaction was surprise.  A baby?  “Well, OK,” they may have thought, “everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

Notice that Luke implies that both Simeon and Anna were senior citizens.  It’s likely each of them had lived a significant portion of their lives with the attitude of expectation.  And then, God revealed His plan was not a man but a baby.  Wow!  Mind blown!

Here’s the thing: it seems very likely to me there was a moment after the excitement wore off a bit that they realized they might not live long enough to see this baby grow to manhood and accomplish God’s plan.  After all their years of waiting, God kept His promise, but they would not see the results.  In fact, as history tells us, it would be another THIRTY YEARS before Jesus began His ministry.  It’s likely both Simeon and Anna were long gone.

At first, this thought is frustrating.  All those years of waiting rewarded with only a glimpse of the one for whom they’d been waiting.  But you don’t get any sense of disappointment or frustration from Luke’s account, do you?  No, Simeon and Anna both demonstrate profound delight, a joy that burst forth in worship and witness.

They are an example to us of how the Advent Attitude of Expectation is supposed to work: when God answers our prayers, He often does so in ways we had never anticipated.  When He acts, can be sideways or backwards of what we expected.

Rather than be like a kid who opened a present to find a socks instead of a baseball glove, we can follow Anna & Simeon’s path and be delighted with what God did.  By faith we can trust and assume His gift is far above what we had asked for or thought about, much better for us anyway.

So I’m asking you, in these days of Advent, ramp up your expectation of what God is going to do, but then don’t be disappointed when it’s something different that what you expected.  Faith says it will be better.

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee

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Searching for the Perfect Gift

Gift

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Please read Matthew 7:7-12 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Last Christmas a little boy did not get what he wanted.  He decided to negotiate with Santa and wrote the following:

“Deer Santa, I am riting this on the day after X-mas and I am very sad.  I only received 1 of the 2 presents I asked for.  Sense you ate my cookies I will asoom that my missing gift was a miss take.  I will give you 1 week too fix this.  Jeremy.” (Spelling errors are his.)

His parents saw this as an opportunity to teach their son a lesson and composed a very professional-looking “reply” from Santa: “Dear Jeremy, I’m sorry you are disappointed with your presents.  You asked for two very expensive presents and Santa can only do so much.  You need to learn to be grateful for what you have, not upset about what you don’t.  If you continue to complain I will have no choice but to add you to the naughty list next year.  Santa.”

Jeremy fired back with another note to Santa: “Deer Fatty, your threats don’t scare me.  I played your game and you did not deliver.  This is not O.K.  I will give you 1 week and then you will pay.  Jeremy.  P.S. I don’t know why you care that it is expensive when you have elf slaves to make things for you.  I think you are naughty for having slaves.”

What would you do next?  Jeremy’s parents decided another reply from Santa was needed: “Dear Jeremy, You are being a very bad little boy.  Because you cannot be happy with what you have, I have talked to your parents and told them to take away your Wii U.  Now you have nothing.  Once you learn to be grateful, perhaps you can have it back.  I am very disappointed in you, Jeremy.  You will need to be an extra good boy this year if you want to make it back on the nice list.  Santa.”

Jeremy is one unforgiving kid.  He wrote a third letter; “Deer Santa, I do not like that stunt you pulled with my parents.  You are on my naughty list.  Be afraid.  You look slow and easy to kill.  Enjoy your cookys next year because the will be poison.  I hope you die.  Jeremy.”  (Emphasis his.)

(You can see these notes for yourself at https://thoughtcatalog.com/callie-byrnes/2017/12/this-boy-didnt-get-everything-he-wanted-for-christmas-so-he-decided-to-get-back-at-santa-with-these-hilarious-letters/.)

I wonder what Jeremy’s Christmas will be like this year?!!  This is a sad and ridiculous example of how disappointment can overtake a person’s better judgment, resulting in toxic words and deeds.

Sadly, sometimes people have this kind of feeling toward God when His answers to their prayers don’t match up.  I know a very intelligent man who remains an unbeliever because his childhood prayers were not answered as he wanted.

Today, we hope to encourage you to pray by proving, with Jesus’ own words, that prayers to God are always heard, always answered, and always make a difference, even if the difference is limited to our own attitude.

  1. Be encouraged: God hears & answers seekers (7-8)

Three verbs appear twice: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  There is an ascending level of commitment/ involvement.  Each requires more of you.  The verbs are repeated for emphasis and to model persistence in prayer.

The tense of the verbs is called “infinitive,” which describes a constant, ongoing activity.  We are to keep on asking, never cease seeking, and keep on knocking on heaven’s gate.    Persevere in prayer until you receive a clear answer from God or He changes your mind.

As God knows what I need better than I do, and as He will do what He wills, why should I pray?  There are at least four excellent reasons to PRAY CONTINUALLY, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says.

The first is the most obvious: God commands prayer.  Be obedient and pray.

The second is that God designed prayer for our sake, not His.  Let’s be clear; God is not waiting for any of us to pray to “activate” His will.  He does not depend on us for anything.  Instead, He commands prayer because communication is key to all relationships and loving communication promotes loving relationships.  God commands prayer to deepen our spiritual maturity.

James 1:5-8 gives specifics on what our attitude should be when praying: IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, HE SHOULD ASK GOD, WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.  BUT WHEN HE ASKS, HE MUST BELIEVE AND NOT DOUBT, BECAUSE HE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, BLOWN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND.  THAT MAN SHOULD NOT THINK HE WILL RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD; HE IS A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN, UNSTABLE IN ALL THAT HE DOES.

Third, we should pray because Jesus’ promises regarding prayer are unconditional.  For example, in this passage EVERYONE’s prayer is answered.  When people talk about “unanswered prayer” they really mean is “God said ‘no’ or ‘wait,’ or said ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want.”

Fourth, the Bible clearly promises that prayer changes things; it has an effect on our world.  As James 5:16b says, THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.

  1. Be encouraged: God’s answer is always what’s best for you (9-11).

More than any earthly parent, God knows our needs.  He will not tease or do evil to us.  Nor is He a child-centered parent who will indulge our wants.  Jesus used humor to make this point:

BREAD versus STONE = Some loaves of bread are baked so hard they become stone-like, some stones take on an appearance similar to bread.

FISH versus SNAKE = Both fishes and snakes have scales, some snakes swim and eels look like snakes.

The point is, if our earthly parents (YOU WHO ARE EVIL) can be trusted to tell the difference and not give us something bad, we can trust God (who is good) to do even better.

Whether God’s answer is what we want or not is not important; it is not the basis for evaluating prayer.  Rest assured God’s answers are always GOOD GIFTS.  Our theology of prayer is not to be centered on us.  God’s answer to prayer reflects His nature and His will.  It is never about our sincerity, posture, gesture, or choice of words.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is false.  Prayer is designed by God to be humbling and focused on Him, because self-focus is hardly ever healthy or helpful.

Full disclosure: it gripes me when people preach negatively about prayer: “Don’t do this or that.”  They reveal their ignorance of Scripture and the true purpose of prayer.  The best prayers are like tears: they flow from a heart overrun with either happiness or sorrow.  Prayer is the inner self expressing itself to God; every other consideration is secondary at best.

  1. Be encouraged: life with God is simple (12).

There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Following Jesus is not easy in the sense that it is a lifelong commitment to change and growth; hardships will be faced, expectations raised, persecution endured.

But living for God is not complicated.  Jesus reduced our ethical life to two commands, both to love, and one simple rule on how to treat others: just the way we want to be treated.

In guiding people’s behavior, you can take two approaches.  The Legalistic approach is to try to anticipate every kind of wrongdoing and write a law to cover it.  Congress is an example of this approach of multiplying the rules.

The Principled approach is to advocate for what is good by setting forth principles.  Everything else is evil.  As an example of reducing the rules is our work on constitution review.  One of our goals is to streamline the current constitution.

The Golden Rule – like the board game “Othello” – “takes a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”  Using this rule requires us to embrace the principle of the preciousness of others.  Paul explained this principle: Philippians 2:3 = DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF.  See also Romans 13:10 = LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR.  THEREFORE LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.

We will always learn new ways and be confronted with new situation in which we can apply this principle, because Jesus said we were to apply it IN EVERTYTHING.  Motivation to use the Golden Rule is also quite simple: it comes from a love for self.  To the degree that we have a healthy self-image and take care of ourselves, it makes it easier for us to treat others in the same way. It may sound backward to say it this way, but a sensitivity to others is founded on knowledge of self; particularly what makes me feel loved.

Interestingly, a variation of the Golden Rule appears in all the world’s major religions.  However, Jesus is the only one who expressed the principle positively.  All others said it negatively; “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”  In this, Jesus sets an example of positivity that we should seek to follow.  His positive version embraces both sides of goodness: it is actively doing good works as well as avoiding evil ones.  Jesus’ version can be applied more broadly.

  1. How to help another seeker find God.

A = Active Listening (withhold your own opinions, suspend judgment for the moment).

B = Begin Where You Meet Them (match the need(s) they express with biblical teaching & church ministry).

C = Consider Their Experience (avoid using terms or making references that they don’t know).

D = Develop Your Own Story (stress points of your own experience common to all and/or similar to theirs).

E = Engage in Dialogue (your goal should be to do about half the talking and half the listening).

F = Find a Time to Continue the Conversation (initial encounters should be brief, later ones lengthier).

G = Get to an Application (an invitation to church is the place to start, invite a decision as the Spirit leads you).

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Earlier in Matthew’s version of these teachings, Jesus taught His disciples to avoid praying out of a hypocritical motive (to earn the praise of others).  In this section, He clarified what our motive for prayer should be.  Then He told us how to live out the godly life that goes into our prayers.

Teaching about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another should go hand in hand, because people who love God will love others.  The Bible teaches a lack of love for neighbor betrays a false love for God.

This is one reason I felt lead to express some “ABCs” of how we can have conversations about God even when we have just met the other person.  We do all we can on Sundays and Wednesdays to present the word of God truthfully and compellingly.  But the living out of that word is something we all must do as much outside the church walls as we do within.

During this season, many of us will spend more time out in the public than we normally do, as we search for Christmas gifts.  (After all, you don’t want to let Jeremy down again!!)  Part of our ambition for the remaining days before the Christmas Holy Day must be to use these public moments to tell others about Jesus.  It is wise for us to make best use of the public’s general affinity for Christmas to make Jesus Christ more widely known.

The first step is to not be in such a hurry.  Linger in public places, make time for conversations.  Then start some!  Make an invitation to church.  We will have Christmas Eve at 6 pm.  Do someone an act of kindness and explain why you did it.  Start somewhere!

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #929

The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, Scot McKnight

Risky Business

Please read Matthew 25:14-33 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

risk

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

          Freakonomics is a franchise of enormously successful books authored by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  The books enjoy worldwide popularity because they ask more pertinent questions and arrive at unusual answers that they substantiate with hard numbers.

For example, in one chapter of the book they ask, “If crack dealers are so rich, why do they live at home with their mothers?”  The answer, it turns out, is that gang membership, like many legal businesses, enriches the people at the top of the organizational chart, while it impoverishes people at the bottom.  They calculated that a street dealer in Chicago made just $3.30 an hour.

Why do they live with mom?  Because at that rate of pay, it’s an economic necessity.  I mention this because even though a study of risk versus benefit of crack dealing falls heavily on the risk side, there are people lining up for those jobs.  This is a horrible example of ignoring the risks and misperceiving t benefits, with tragic results.

Our subject this morning is risk.  Why are churches so averse to risk?  How should people of faith look at risk versus benefit when making a decision?  This is not merely a mathematical equation, but also pays attention to spiritual factors that can’t be expressed on a balance sheet.  For us, the bottom line is discerning the will of God, arriving at a shared understanding of what God wants us to do.  After determining a direction, we rely on God to supply us with courage and perseverance to follow through on our decision.

Jesus addressed the issue of risk in the parable of the Talents.  Whenever we look at a parable, the question we must ask is, “What is the one main point of the parable?”

THE ONE MAIN POINT OF THIS PARABLE: The risk-takers pleased their master; the safe-player did not.

  1. The “$5 and $2 Servants” did bear fruit.

We’re not told HOW they did it, but the results speak for themselves; the first two servants doubled their master’s investment.  By means of contrast with the single-talent servant (whom I’m referring to as the “Dollar General”), we can infer that the $5 and $2 Servants were not WICKED or LAZY like the $1 Servant had been.

Two facts support this interpretation.  One, verse sixteen plainly tells us that the $5 Servant put the master’s money TO WORK.  Money at work is money at risk.  You’ve heard “you have to spend money to make money?”  Investing money or exercising it as capital to fund a business venture both require some risk of loss.  You simply can’t do business without it.

Two, the fact that they GAINED money implies that they were willing to take some measure of risk and used the master’s money to make more money.  Success comes to those who take risks; those who refuse all risk will never know success.  This is true financially and in every other aspect of life as well.

The two servants received the same reward and the approval of their master.  The servant entrusted with $5 made $5 and therefore earned more money than the servant who made $2.  However, the master made no distinction between their rewards.  Both servants received the same reward and the same commendation.

The reward both the fruitful servants received was a promotion: “YOU HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL WITH A FEW THINGS; I WILL PUT YOU IN CHARGE OF MANY THINGS.”  This makes it sound like the master was testing the servants to see if he’d rightly evaluated their abilities.  As verse fifteen states, the master apportioned his money to each of the three servants ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY.

Therefore, he believed the $5 Servant was the most ambitious and talented one. The master therefore put greater trust in him.  The $2 Servant was not as ambitious or talented, but he still merited the master’s trust.  However, the master suspected the $1 Servant was unreliable and didn’t put much trust in him at all.  The master’s judgment was vindicated in all three cases.

The servants who pleased their master received the reward of a promotion and an enthusiastic commendation.  The master said, “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!  COME AND SHARE IN YOUR MASTER’S HAPPINESS!”  He called them GOOD AND FAITHFUL servants, commending their character and achievement.  Notice the master goes beyond mere business and makes a personal invitation to join him in the HAPPINESS a successful business brings.

  1. The “Dollar General” refused risk and was unfruitful.

We are told exactly how the unfruitful servant failed his master: he just buried the money.  He was unwilling to take any risks.

In fact, he was so “risk averse” that he didn’t even entrust his buck to a bank, where it might’ve earned a few pennies of interest.  He protected his master’s money but that was not the purpose of this little exercise.

He said he was AFRAID: his master knew better.  He might’ve very well been AFRAID, but that’s hardly a good excuse (he may have been afraid of failure or rejection, these are genuine fears and/or excuses we have all experienced) and the master saw through it immediately.

Whether he was sincerely afraid of his master or not, the Dollar General attempted to shift the blame for his fruitfulness from himself to his master.  He complained, “YOU ARE A HARD MAN,” and effectively said, “You expect others to make money for you.”  This is what the redundant lines, “YOU…HARVEST WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SOWN” and “YOU…gather WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SCATTERED SEED.”

The master was unwilling to accept fear as an excuse and was unwilling to accept the blame for the Dollar General’s failure.  The master threw the Dollar General’s own words right back in his face.  He exposed the fallacy of his excuses by saying, “If you were really afraid of me, you should’ve at least deposited the money in the bank, but you didn’t even do that!”

The master condemned the $1 Servant.  He exposed his true motives: wickedness and laziness.  It sounds to me like the WICKED servant resented his master’s wealth and power.  That was why he was willing to insult his master and be defiant at the time of reckoning.

The master also condemned the Dollar General as LAZY.  He didn’t want to bother with the bank or anything else, he simply made sure he didn’t lose the dollar entrusted to him.

In verse 30, the master condemned the $1 Servant as WORTHLESS.  These are three strong words of condemnation.  We must not gloss over the severity of the master’s condemnation and use them to motivate ourselves – if necessary – to avoid deserving similar condemnation from our Heavenly Father, our true Master.

The unfruitful servant also suffered two stiff penalties.  One, the TALENT he returned was taken away and given to the ten-talent servant.  In this way, the master encouraged fruitful service.  He said, “FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS WILL BE GIVEN MORE; HE WILL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE. WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, EVEN WHAT HE

HAS WILL BE TAKEN FROM HIM.”

Two, while the fruitful servants were welcomed into the master’s HAPPINESS, the unfruitful servant was thrown OUT of the master’s presence.  He was thrown INTO THE DARKNESS; darkness being a symbol of sin in the Bible.  He was to be cast out of the master’s presence, into a place WHERE THERE WILL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH; signs of extreme regret, anger, and despair.

When taken in tandem with the other parables in Matthew 25 and Jesus’ introduction of them with the words AT THAT TIME (verse one), this part of the parable is clearly a warning of Judgment Day, when all of us will be called to account for how we used the resources God entrusted to us.

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

Typically at this time of year, we inventory what God has done FOR us and are appropriately thankful.  When did you hear someone being thankful for what God has done THROUGH them?  When are we grateful for what God has done WITH us?

God has not called us to be “risk-averse.”  There is no virtue in seeking a “risk free” life; indeed, there is no such thing.  Risk is part of life; it is unavoidable.  What we can do is attempt to minimize risk or manage it, taking on risk in order to accomplish more.  We need a change of mind and heart on this point: we need to consider risk to be a tool we use to determine and do God’s will.  If we never do more than we know we can do, we will never experience what God can do

To help motivate this mind-set, I will close by telling you about three churches I knew in a state in which I have previously served, all of them closed.  Without ever running out of money, they ran out of people and ceased to be a church.

In one church, a single family ran off the rest of the congregation.  The church never officially closed, but now it’s only used for family functions.  They even put new carpeting in the sanctuary after they stopped holding worship service.  Today it’s a doll house; a plaything for the family that makes up the membership.

Another church ceased operations, selling their building.  It became a restaurant and bar.

A third became a hay loft; you can see the bales of hay through the windows.

I suspect these churches were populated by “dollar disciples” like the Dollar General in Jesus’ parable.  As a result, none of them survive to our time as houses of worship.

What this age and this culture demand are daring disciples; people who will take on risk in order to have a witness and a work in our community.  There is nothing less than survival at stake.

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

The Answer is “No and Yes”

ambition

The question: “Is this as good as it gets?”

          Ambition can get you in a lot of trouble.  Too much is a problem, as is too little. If a person has ambitions that are selfish or materialistic, they’ll find the pursuit of God to be frustrating.  Ambition that creates competition can be divisive.

Pastors are not immune to this issue; there’s a surprising amount of literature on the subject.  For example, I read an article titled “The Ambition Engine” by Pastor Skye Jethani.  He wrote about how his seminary experience revealed a dark side to pastoral ambition. “On the first day in a small class, when asked to introduce ourselves and say why we had entered seminary, the first student said, ‘I’m here because I’m going to be the next Bill Hybels.’ Really, I thought. Hope that works out for you.

“The next said, ‘My grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, and I’m supposed to be a pastor too.’ Daddy issues? The third student revealed his three-year plan to become senior pastor and then transform his congregation into a megachurch. ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div. degree,’ he said, ‘but once I’ve proven I can grow a big church, I don’t think they’ll make me finish the degree.’ Good grief, I thought.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2010/fall/ambitionengine.html

Yes, ambition can cause some particularly stupid notions.  Achieving a balance requires deep knowledge of one’s self, obedience to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to change to meet changing circumstances.

On way to promote a healthy balanced ambition is to keep asking yourself, “Is this as good as it gets?”  The answer will lead to maturing faith if your ambition sits squarely on God.  In Philippians, Paul evidences a good balance of ambition and contentment.  We’ll look at it this morning following the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” method.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. No way – God is not finished with you (Philippians 1:6).

CONFIDENT in the Greek meant “persuaded, convinced, trusting in the object.”  You might say this word refers to an earned trust.

Paul used this word five times in his letters, twice here in Philippians (see Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:24; Philemon 1:21; Hebrews 6:9).  Of these references, twice he was CONFIDENT IN THE LORD (Galatians 5:10 and Philippians 2:24).  The other three times his confidence was in the recipients of his letters.  Paul never expressed confidence based on himself, only on t LORD and His people.  The LORD had earned Paul’s trust and though church folk disappointed him, Paul knew t LORD would never abandon his people.

The phrase BEGAN…CARRY ON TO COMPLETION encompasses the scope of salvation.  God took the initiative with each of us; He BEGAN the process of salvation right after the sin of Adam and Eve.  God has not abandoned or forgotten any of His people; He will save everyone who calls on Him.  The beginning and the end are in God’s hands; let there be no doubt about that.  But we are all still in process; let there be no doubt about that either.

How long will the process last?  Paul’s answer here was UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS.  The DAY OF CHRIST JESUS occurs just six times in the New Testament; three of them here in Philippians.  This DAY is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the event that signals the completion of God’s work of salvation.

The life we know right now cannot be as good as it gets because we are in process, and the process is not complete.  The Bible calls this process “sanctification,” a word that means becoming increasingly holy.

If we are convinced that some day in the past or the present life is as good as it gets, we must be frozen at a point in our maturing.  All of us need to cultivate a little “godly discontent” in this regard.  We should always acknowledge that the biggest room in our home is “room for improvement.”

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes – be content (Philippians 4:12).

Paul has seen it all: times of NEED and times of PLENTY.  He did not exaggerate in the least.  On the PLENTY side, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to purchase Roman citizenship.  On the “needy” side, he suffered a great deal because he faithfully preached the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a lengthy list of all Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel).  This fact proved that Paul’s joy did not depend on his circumstances.  Even in all his sufferings he was CONTENT will all God provided.

Having seen it all, Paul learned the SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION.  It was a “SECRET” in the sense that contentment is something learned by experience and by individual commitment.  No one can be content for you or teach it to you.  It must come from within your heart.  Again, Paul’s contentment was not limited to moments of ease; EACH AND EVERY SITUATION includes all the normal and extraordinary situations he faced.

Isn’t contentment the opposite of ambition?  On the surface, contentment can feel like saying “I don’t need or want any more.  I am fine with what I have/what I am right now.”  On the surface, ambition can feel like a hunger that cannot be satisfied, a dissatisfaction that motivates movement.

To me, it’s more helpful to see these emotional conditions as two ends of a balancing pole.  Wire-walkers sometimes perform with a pole in their hands, using it to achieve balance on the wire.  Similarly, contentment and ambition are two virtues we hold in balance to keep us steady as we make our way through life.  There will be circumstances where we need to be more content and others where more ambition is needed.  God supplies wisdom so we know the difference. Our final note on this passage narrows the issue down for us.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes and no – be content with God’s material provision;

be ambitious for godliness instead (Philippians 3:13-14).

In humility, Paul admitted he hadn’t TAKEN HOLD of all Jesus had done for him.  The phrase TAKEN HOLD means to “seize, grasp the meaning, understand.”

He hadn’t yet been raised to heaven.

He hadn’t been MADE PERFECT (12).

Those things happen on the other side of this life.  And yet, at that moment, Paul had as his ambition to take hold of as much of it as possible on this side of life.

Paul noted two steps in achieving this ambition.

One: FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND.  God gave me a series of one-liners to understand and apply this truth:

– Resist the urge to gold-plate the past.  The days behind held their share of sorrows too.

– Resist the urge to hold grudges.

– Forgive and forget the offense, but hold tight to the lessons learned.

– Seek forgiveness from people and God wherever offense and sin is unresolved.

– Reject the devil’s false guilt.

– Love unconditionally, as God has loved you.

– Remember people in the most positive light.

– Sentiment clouds our judgment; best avoid it.

– Discard limitations your past places on you.

Two: STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD.  Imagine the victory, then pour yourself into achieving it under God’s direction.

No amount of effort will change the past.  Some of your efforts may immediately change the present.  Every effort will have an effect on the future.  That fact alone ought to dictate where we devote our attention.

For the believer, Jesus awaits us on the other side of the finish line.  We pour our heart and mind and strength into faithful obedience because we await His welcome on the other side of that line.  If our eyes are on anything other than the finish line, we tend to veer off course and/or slow down.

The Apostle Paul undertook one method in realizing his ambition: I PRESS ON.  The phrase PRESS ON pictures a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line.  The athlete is pouring every last bit of strength into finishing the race; his effort leaves everything on the field of competition.  Nothing needs to be reserved for after the race of life because there is nothing left to be done after this race.

For many of us, life is a marathon, not a sprint.  The effort required to be faithful does not relent until death comes to us.  Quitting is not even an option.  When weariness comes, we may have to change our pace, but we keep moving on toward our heavenly goal.

Paul had one goal in life: TO WIN THE PRIZE FOR WHICH GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS.  The PRIZE in this case is eternal life; a forever spent in God’s presence and in fellowship with the rest of His people.  We know that because verse eleven ends with a reference to THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

There is nothing this world can offer that compares with heaven.   Our problem is not so much having trouble believing that, but our problem is more often remembering that.  We don’t always behave like people who are headed for heaven, do we?  The world can easily distract us and our human nature can easily betray us so we don’t act as heaven-bound folk.  That’s called SIN and we need to avoid it and repent of it when we fail to avoid it.

The parts of us that survive the death of the body are the good and godly things.  Nothing evil or worldly makes it into heaven.  It’s upon us to partner with the Holy Spirit in filling our days with godly words and deeds.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

          A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house your describing.”

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/1126/house-for-sale/

God revealed to Paul that he should be continually ambitious for spiritual maturity but content with the material things God had already provided.  This allowed Paul to be undeterred by circumstances, numbers, or any other material signs of success or failure.  That is a worthy example for us to follow.

Here’s one way we can put this into practice.  The next time you feel compelled to upgrade to the bigger, faster, newer, or prettier version of something we already have, require yourself to make a matching contribution to church or charity.  Doubling the expense will cause you to think twice about buying the item at all and might just simplify your life.

Ephesus in an Uproar

Expect resistance when you tell the truth but don’t stop telling the truth.

Please read Acts 19:23-41 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for these remarks.

Riot at Ephesus

Think for a moment about the biggest crowd you can remember being part of at a sporting facility.  For those of us in Sioux Falls, SD, that would likely be at Howard Wood Field.  Can you recall the noise, the jostling, the energy of 10,000 people crammed into those stands? The amphitheater in the ancient city of Ephesus held more than twice that many people.  That’s a crowd!

The most seating that has ever been available at Howard Wood was 16,500, when bleachers were borrowed from local colleges and moved there.  On August 5, 1960, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings played the very first game in the history of the Vikings at Howard Wood Field.  A ticket to the game cost $5.50 unless you sat in the borrowed bleachers and paid $3.50.  The extra seating would prove to be entirely unnecessary as the attendance that day was under 5,000.  The promoters lost their shirts and the Vikings lost their game, but Sioux Falls will always be the weird beginning to a storied sports team.

This morning we will take a look at a page from the history of the ancient city of Ephesus.  It was a similar comedy of errors to the only attempt to bring NFL football to Sioux Falls.  The tale has a dark side, however, being a clear threat to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the people who held if forth as truth.

  1. Change is hard; greed is harder (vs. 23-27).

“THE WAY” (verse 23) is how Christians of that time referred to themselves.  It is not to be confused with a modern day cult “the Way International.”  Then as in our own time, the word WAY referred to a person’s daily choices that reflected the direction they were headed.  It might also be described as a life goal, mission, or number one priority.

The instigator of the riot was Demetrius, who made his living crafting and selling souvenirs!  You heard me right.  He made little replicas of the massive Temple to Artemis, goddess of wild plants and animals, hunting, chastity and childbirth.  The temple was the major tourist attraction in the city.  She was beloved so Demetrius and his fellows made A “GOOD INCOME” (verse 25) on his souvenirs.

So what’s the problem?  Look back at verse 20 where it is written, THE WORD OF THE LORD SPREAD WIDELY AND GREW IN POWER.  Demetrius apparently felt that Paul’s teaching was a threat.  One, Paul’s teaching had converted “LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE.”  When you are growing, people are more likely to consider you a threat and more likely to oppose you.  In v. 26 he said “PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE PROVINCE OF ASIA” was listening to Paul’s teaching.  By his own words, Demetrius, a “hostile witness” gauged the influence of the Church in Asia.        In verse 27 he said that Artemis was “WORSHIPED THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE OF ASIA,” corresponding to Paul’s area of influence.

He was concerned that not only would business suffer, but also that the temple and the goddess would be “DISCREDITED.” (27)  After all, if people are leaving the goddess to follow Paul’s God, then that implies Artemis is the lesser divinity.  His reference to the WORLD is no exaggeration; archaeologists have uncovered temples to Artemis all over the ancient Roman world.

Demetrius may be sincere in his concern for the temple and for the city, but it seems more likely he was concerned about his wallet.  I say this because if he was concerned about the city, he’d have followed legal procedures as the CITY CLERK suggested (38-39).  Starting a riot is the kind of thing done by a greedy person without a legal leg to stand on.

That’s why Demetrius sought to inflame passion against Paul by accusing him of some awful misdeeds.  He accused Paul of leading people astray (26), telling them scandalous things like “MAN-MADE GODS ARE NO GODS AT ALL.”  He vilified Paul for “discrediting” Artemis and robbing her of her divine majesty (27).

  1. The riot resulted in confusion (vs. 28-32).

Luke described it as A GREAT COMMOTION (23), an example of the understated way things are typically described in the Bible.  The Bible writers didn’t exaggerate; they didn’t need to.

We start with the reaction of the members of the guild of silversmiths to the charges Demetrius made.  They were FURIOUS and BEGAN SHOUTING about how great Artemis was until they wound the whole city into an UPROAR.

Another measure of the commotion is the actions of the mob in verses 29-30: they SIEZED GAIUS AND ARISTARCHUS, who must have been widely known as Paul’s associates.  Don’t suppose they were treated gently.

They RUSHED AS ONE MAN INTO THE THEATER, probably intent on making “examples” of these two men.  I remind you the theater in Ephesus seated 24,000 people.  It was undoubtedly the biggest venue in the city.  It was not used for dramas only, but also for civic events of all kinds.

This concerted rush in a single direction implies that the events were unfolding as planned.  What happened was a riot but it wasn’t spontaneous, at least at the beginning.  Ending up in the theater was strategic.  This is what we’d call a “publicity stunt.”

To his credit, Paul wanted to APPEAR BEFORE THE CROWD, either to talk them out of rash actions or offer himself in exchange for his companions (30-31).  This was not empty posturing; Paul had to be restrained by other followers of Jesus.  OFFICIALS OF THE PROVINCE also weighed in to convince Paul not to go.  This tells us not only that Paul had FRIENDS in high places, but also that the riot must have gone on for some time for all these people to get involved.

The result was CONFUSION and is almost comical.  People were shouting different things, just to make noise.  Some came to the riot late and didn’t know what it was all about, but they were ready to join a protest.  Who doesn’t like a good tar and feathering?

Pity poor Alexander, suddenly chosen to be “front man” for the local Jewish community (33-34).  Some of the people at the riot were Jews and they thought Alexander might get the mob to calm down.   (They were among the confused!)  Alexander was game, but his attempts to MAKE A DEFENSE of Paul, who was born a Jew, were merely shouted down by the crowd.  These Greeks weren’t going to let a Jew tell them how to run t city.

Though it may sound strange that people in a 24,000 seat amphitheater would take up a common shout and do so for TWO HOURS, it was actually fairly common in that culture.  They called these rhythmic chants, shouts, and noises acclamatio, from which we get our English word “acclaim.”

  1. A wise man quieted the riot (vs. 35-41).

Where Alexander failed, the unnamed CITY CLERK succeeded; he QUIETED THE CROWD and got them to listen for a time (35).  While the title CITY CLERK may sound a little nerdy, this man was the chief link between the Roman Empire and the city administrators.  He wielded great power.  This is why the people were willing to listen to him and why they heeded his words.

His wise arguments convinced the CROWD.  We can see four parts of his rhetoric.

First he appealed to their pride in a positive way (35-36).  He cited as UNDENIABLE FACTS that the temple in Ephesus was the greatest in the ancient world because the goddess herself flung the massive silver image in the middle of the temple to earth and the temple was built around it. This was, of course, a myth, not a fact, but the CITY CLERK used both savvy and mythology to remind the people that the city had nothing to prove.

He effectively said, “Demetrius and his guild are wrong; there is no danger to this temple.  It is divinely protected and too big to fail.”

Since the temple was in no danger, there was no need for all this noise (“BE QUIET”) or to do anything RASH.

Second, he asserted that Gaius and Aristarchus were not criminals (37).  These statements were true.  He said, “THEY HAVE NEITHER ROBBED TEMPLES NOR BLASPHEMED THE GODDESS.”  At that time, robbing temples and committing blasphemy were serious crimes, punishable by death or exile.  This was the truth: Paul’s associates had committed no crime against the temple or the city.  Instead, they were being used as scapegoats by the mob.

Third, the clerk insisted that the rule of law be followed, not rule by the mob (38-39).  Notice that he knew exactly who was responsible for all this trouble and called him out: “DEMETRIUS AND HIS FELLOW CRAFTSMEN.”  This was a subtle warning: should the ax of punishment fall, it would fall on Demetrius and his cronies.

His point was that there were legal and reasonable ways to settle a grievance fairly, ways that would produce good results.  I imagine he had sympathy with Demetrius’ concerns, especially the economic ones.  However, to his credit, this man stood up for justice.

Fourth, he warned there would be negative consequences if the rioters continued to make this COMMOTION (40).  In the Roman Empire, where riots occurred, imperial legions would not be far behind.

No one in local government wanted Rome to step in and put the city under military rule.  This very thing happened at least once in Roman history.  In 20 BC the city of Cyzicus allowed some Roman citizens to be put to death in a riot.  They lost their city government because of it.  This is no idle threat.  If the empire heard about the COMMOTION and called him to account for it, the clerk would have to say, “THERE IS NO REASON FOR IT.”

His wise arguments apparently persuaded the people; HE DISMISSED THE ASSEMBLY (41) and that’s all we hear about it.

Though this passage has some goofy elements to it, the dark truth behind it is this: Expect opposition to the truth.  We’d like to think being a follower of Jesus should be the end to our troubles.  We’d like to think being truthful will eventually be recognized, maybe applauded.

These thoughts do not come from the Bible.  Jesus Himself said, “IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.  BUT TAKE HEART!  I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” (John 16:33)

Naturally we’d rather stand in the arena to enjoy the cheers of the crowd.  We’d rather not be Gaius or Aristarchus, who were stood before the jeering thousands of Ephesus.  We wouldn’t like to be Alexander and have to face the crowd that shouts us down.  Success will not spare us the opposition of sinful people; it will likely invite more.

So what is our hope?  Our hope is Jesus.  “I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD” is His promise and our hope.  Nothing in this world – neither its acclaim nor its opposition – should move our hope anywhere else.

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

One OR Done

Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

ichabod

One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school.  The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school.  I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor.  I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.

What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting.  Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river.  It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.

The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group.  We all wanted to help.  School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.

Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy.  It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting.  It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.

It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.

  1. Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.

The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered.  Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone.  Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.

Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12).  Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins.  To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.

  1. Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)

ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself.  God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16).  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins.  Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.

TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17).  Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed.  Jesus’ presence gives us peace.

These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”  God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers.  They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.

THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16).  On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.

On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps.  Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.

FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15)  This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands.  He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.

As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12.  Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).

FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21)  (We will talk about this later.)

  1. Descriptions of our unity.

The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together!  Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17)  No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists.  The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.

God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15)  This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one.  Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one.  So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified.  We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.

Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16)  Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation.  Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God.  That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.

A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers.  In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)

The word ACCESS refers to prayer.  It is having a means of communicating with a king.  As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer.  Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.

The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God.  As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS.  And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19)  CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law.  More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.

Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells.  GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE  APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20)  Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built.  In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.

The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE.  In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.

In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.  Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES.  Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together.  A stack of bricks is not a building.  It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.

Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.  God created the Church for many different reasons.  However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons.  He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place.  We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.

You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports.  When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”

I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective.  Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.”  This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church.  A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.

Unity is received, not achieved.  We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

 

RESOURCE USED:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold